Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri surprised by Rafa Benitez's defensive tactics
Maurizio Sarri said he was shocked by Rafa Benitez's defensive approach after Chelsea battled to a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Newcastle.
DeAndre Yedlin's 87th-minute own goal proved the difference at St James' Park after Joselu's header had cancelled out Eden Hazard's penalty as Chelsea maintained their perfect start to the new Premier League season, but not without encountering significant difficulties.
After the match Sarri praised the resilience his players showed to take three points at St James' Park for the first time since December 2011, and expressed surprise that Benitez -- whom he faced numerous times in Italy -- had set Newcastle up primarily to nullify Chelsea.
"We knew that here is a difficult game for us, because only in the last season Chelsea lost here, Manchester United lost here, Arsenal lost here," Sarri said. "So I think it is not so easy to play here against this opponent.
"In Italy I have never seen Rafa play with five defenders and also so compact, so it was really very difficult. We needed to move the ball very fast and be patient.
"To draw with five minutes to the end for us it would have been more difficult. I think that this team from a character point of view is a strong team."
Benitez said a lack of options in his squad led him to opt for more defensive tactics, with Newcastle captain Jamaal Lascelles absent with an ankle injury.
"We had five players out and thought if we were compact we could maybe frustrate them," Benitez said. "We wanted to stay in the game and try to take our chances and we were very close."
The Daily Mail had reported that Lascelles had refused to play in such a formation, but Benitez downplayed claims of a bust-up after the game.
"All my life, I've liked to talk with players, so I talk with players, we decide what to do and then we stick with the plan, so everybody knows that," he said. "If any player has different opinions, they can give their opinions and after we have to stick with the plan, that's it."
Chelsea enjoyed 81 percent possession in the match, with summer signing Jorginho completing more passes (158) than the entire Newcastle team, but they found clear chances difficult to come by with home goalkeeper Martin Dubravka well protected.
In the end it was Hazard who provided the breakthrough on his first Chelsea start of the season, slipping the ball to Alonso for the penalty and then lashing the spot kick beyond Dubravka to give his team the lead.
"I think he played very well," Sarri said of Hazard. "Maybe it would have been better for him in this moment to play 70 or 75 minutes, but after the first goal [Mateo] Kovacic asked me to make the substitution. It was the preferred [option], so it was impossible for him to rest."
Chelsea's third victory from their opening three Premier League games keeps them level with Liverpool and Watford -- and ahead of champions Manchester City -- at the top of the table, but Sarri refused to indulge any talk of potential title aspirations.
Asked what it means to be joint top after three games, he replied: "Nothing, I think. The league is on 38 matches, so after three... it is important to start very well. But now the table is not important."